Working-age adults struggle with drug costs

It’s not just senior citizens who have trouble paying for prescription drugs. A new report from the Center for Studying Health System Change has found that increasing numbers of working-age American adults are going without prescription medication because they can’t afford the cost.

In 2003, one in 10 children and working-age adults skipped a medication because of the cost. In 2007, this jumped to one in seven, the survey found. The data were collected from the center’s 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey.

The rising cost of prescription drugs, coupled with shrinking drug coverage by health plans, were the main reasons why younger people are having increasing difficulty affording their medications, the report’s authors said.

The authors called it a "troublesome" trend, noting that prescription drugs are often an important component in health, especially in managing chronic conditions.

Moreover, patients who go without needed prescription drugs may experience worsening health and expensive complications. The most vulnerable people – those with low incomes, chronic conditions and the uninsured – continue to face the greatest unmet prescription drug needs. Yet, between 2003 and 2007, higher-income adults and those without chronic conditions experienced percentage point increases in unmet needs nearly as large as those with lower incomes and chronic conditions, respectively. This signals that prescription drugs are becoming more expensive for everyone and that insurance coverage provides less financial protection against out-of-pocket drug spending than it did in the past.

The report’s authors noted that the situation is likely to get worse as the economy deteriorates.

Among the survey’s specific findings:

– Although the largest increase in unmet prescription drug needs occurred among uninsured working-age Americans, working-age adults with employer-sponsored insurance also were feeling the pinch. The study found that 10.7 percent of working adults with employer-sponsored insurance reported going without a prescription drug in 2007, compared to 8.7 percent just four years earlier.

– Uninsured working-age adults (ages 19-64) with one or more chronic conditions were the worst off; two-thirds reported going without a prescription drug because they couldn’t afford it.

– Children are less likely than adults to need prescription medication. Nevertheless, in 2007 an estimated 3.9 million American children didn’t receive medication they needed because of the cost.

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